Pastors, musicians, students, and friends, as we enter the season of Lent (a time of repentance and remembering our humanity) I offer this timely hymn: “O Young and Fearless Prophet” (written in 1931) set to the Passion Chorale (1601 — O Sacred Head Now Wounded) for our Lenten Journey:
“O Young and Fearless Prophet” (text by S. Ralph Harlow, 1931) set to the tune of Passion Chorale (Hans L. Hassler, 1601, arr. Joseph McBrayer — .pdf below)
“O young and fearless Prophet of ancient Galilee,
thy life is still a summons to serve humanity;
to make our thoughts and actions less prone to please the crowd,
to stand with humble courage for truth with hearts uncowed.
We marvel at the purpose that held thee to thy course
while ever on the hilltop before thee loomed the cross;
thy steadfast face set forward where love and duty shone,
while we betray so quickly and leave thee there alone.
O help us stand unswerving against war’s bloody way,
where hate and lust and falsehood hold back Christ’s holy sway;
forbid false love of country that blinds us to his call,
who lifts above the nations the unity of all.
Stir up in us a protest against our greed for wealth,
while others starve and hunger and plead for work and health;
where homes with little children cry out for lack of bread,
who live their years sore burdened beneath a gloomy dread.
O young and fearless Prophet, we need thy presence here,
amid our pride and glory to see thy face appear;
once more to hear thy challenge above our noisy day,
again to lead us forward along God’s holy way.”
S. Ralph Harlow (1885-1972), a congregationalist and practitioner of the Social Gospel, wrote this hymn on the back of a menu in 1931 during the Great Depression*–the United Methodist hymnal committee didn’t include stanza 5 in either the 1935 or 1966 Hymnal edition as the editor told Harlow: “the church is not ready to sing that.” Harlow told him it wasn’t “as radical as the Magnificat in Luke 1:46-55, which is sung in the Methodist service” and stanza 5 eventually made it into our 1989 hymnal.*
The epiphanal moment leading me to set this text to PASSION CHORALE came in during Lent of 2014 when the hymn text was an ideal fit for a worship series on Race and the Church, but the hymn tune in 13.13 13.13 was unfamiliar. I realized that any tune in 7.6 7.6 D could work and PASSION CHORALE fit the text and the occasion quite well serving as a prelude of the coming terminus of Lent in Good Friday when we most often sing “O Sacred Head Now Wounded.”
Another stanza that didn’t make it is below — may we live into this stanza and the call heard in this hymn from our “Young and Fearless Prophet.”
“Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind.
That knows not race or color as boundaries of the mind;
That learns to value beauty, in heart, or brain, or soul,
And longs to bind God’s children into one perfect whole.”
*source: Carlton R. Young, Companion to the United Methodist Hymnal, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1993, pages 537-538.